Anger at the passing of the irrepressible Sheila Lukins subsided at the memorial service organized by her daughters this week. We listened to accounts by friends, colleagues and "aren't they wonderful, Mort?" (as Sheila would have so accurately put it) Molly and Annabel, who made us remember the good times, great meals, and unique style of our all-time favorite cook.
Inspired by the girls, we planned an all-Sheila meal and studied her seven superb cookbooks to select recipes. Along the way, delicious memories poured out -- like the rich mix of colors, textures, aromas and flavors that Sheila could combine in bowls, pans, and plates of all sizes.
There was the elegant black tie party she hosted on a day's notice to accommodate her friend Gael Greene's deadline for a New York Magazine deadline. The food and wine were great, the candles glowed, and who could have figured that when the article appeared, we were featured as the center-fold and Sheila had a staple down the middle of her face?
There was the Great Swordfish Cookoff when Sheila went head-to-head in our kitchen with Monsieur Dodin Bouffant himself, Bob Pritsker. Having just closed his multi-star East Side restaurant, Bobby stored fish stock and "swordfish balls" in our freezer. Sheila took the challenge, proclaiming: "Mort, swordfish do not have balls." We sat like fans at a heavyweight fight as the two bantered and cooked their way through a terrific meal.
And, of course, there was the occasional "sweet little lunch" at her tiny house in Sag Harbor when she would vault "the bounty of the season" into a splendid soup and perfect salad,
Enough for the memories; the girls suggested that we all bake a carrot cake following the recipe that Sheila's mother Berta prepared to stock the shelves of the Silver Palette on Columbus Avenue -- a hit then, a masterpiece for years, a challenge for one like me who had never before baked anything! I was game.
Judy laid out the ingredients, the tools, my apron and toque. Let the games begin: I chopped, stirred, measured, combined, even sifted! We placed the goods into it's buttered pan, pre-heated the oven as instructed, and savored the aroma -- which, more than anything this week, brought back the joy of being in Sheila's kitchen.
That we mistimed the baking and produced a perfect on the outside, pasty on the inside cement block really didn't matter. What counted was that we got to spend some time cooking with Sheila -- and, in the words of Harry Ruby or Groucho or whoever, "Oh, how that lady could cook!"